LAKEWOOD - Ruben Amaro Jr. understands the Phillies fans' angst about the team
The Phillies general manager understands the concern about the team's collective age.
Amaro understands the reaction to the offseason signings of the 36-year-old Marlon Byrd and the 39-year-old Bobby Abreu.
Amaro also knows the only way to change the fans' perception.
"Our fan base is going to be (unhappy) until we win baseball games," Amaro said. "That's the nature of the beast in Philadelphia."
Amaro and several other members of the Phillies brass came to the Woodlake Country Club on a frigid Wednesday night to talk baseball as part of the Lakewood BlueClaws winter banquet. Lakewood is the Phillies single-A minor-league affiliate.
Phillies pitchers and catchers will hold their first spring training workout on Feb. 13 in Clearwater, Fla. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 18.
The Phillies are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013. Philadelphia finished 73-89 - 23 games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.
"I'm a lot more bullish this year than I was last year," Amaro said. "We're going in pretty healthy. It's a hard message to send but the players we had on the field at the end of last season are not the projected team. Until the fans see it, there's going to be a pessimism because we had a bad year."
Phillies fans have voiced concern this winter that the team's better days are in the past. The team's core - catcher Carlos Ruiz, 35; first baseman Ryan Howard, 34; second baseman Chase Utley, 35; and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 35 - isn't getting any younger.
"I understand the age thing," Amaro said. "But it's not necessarily about being old. It's about being productive."
Amaro said Howard's health is a key for the Phillies. He played in just 71 games in 2012 and 80 last season because of various leg injuries. Howard did hit 11 home runs and knock in 43 runs despite being barely able to run because of a knee injury last season.
Amaro said Howard is already in Clearwater swinging the bat and taking ground balls.
"For the first time in a long time, Ryan feels healthy," Amaro said. "I fully expect him to have a good year. I don't expect him to hit 40 home runs, but I do expect him to hit at least 30 and drive in at least 100. When he's in the lineup, we win."
Rollins batted .252 and hit just six home runs last season.
"I'll be shocked if Jimmy doesn't come back and have a better year," Amaro said. "I think he'll hit a typical 10 to 15 home runs and drive in between 60 and 80 runs."
Phillies fans wanted the team to sign younger players this offseason to complement the older core. That's easier said than done, according to Amaro.
"There's not a whole lot of young guys out there," Amaro said. "Everyone who is a free agent these days is going to be over 30. Guys get to the big leagues when they're 24 or 25. Six years later (when they can become free agents) they're over 30."
Fans wondered why the team signed the 36-year-old Byrd, even though he hit 24 home runs and knocked in 88 runs for the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Byrd gives the team a sorely needed right-handed bat.
"Is (Byrd) a superstar? No, but he helps solidify our lineup," Amaro said. "He made some adjustments in his swing. What out scouts saw was he changed his approach which created more loft in his swing and that created more home runs."
With this week's signing of the 39-year-old Abreu - who starred for the Phillies in the early 2000s - the team seemed to be trying to go back to the future.
Amaro said the Phillies could have gotten younger if the team was willing to trade an ace pitcher such as Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, or a top prospect such as pitcher Jesse Biddle.
"How much do you rob Peter to pay Paul?" Amaro said. "I wasn't going to move (a valuable) pitcher just to get a young player."
Amaro said the losing got to some of the team's veterans and affected their performance on the field last season.
"The players didn't feel confident about our team," He said. "You have guys like Jimmy (Rollins) and (Jonathan) Papelbon who are used to playing on winning teams. The (losing) brings you down - right or wrong. Lenny Dykstra was a perfect example. He was great on a great team and terrible on a bad team. Hopefully, guys (this year) have confidence in each other and we start off well and get the ball rolling."
And age might just be overrated. The Boston Red Sox started six players 30 or older in Game 6 of the World Series last year.
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